Generally, when I write about a restaurant, it's based on a one-time experience. Even if I like it or love it, I may not go back for a variety of reasons. It may be too far or my pocketbook can only handle a yearly visit. Usually, it's because I love eating out and checking out other eateries so much that I'd rather concentrate on new finds as opposed to re-visiting old haunts. However, if a restaurant scores the double whammy of serving delicious food and being close to where I live, than I will take the opportunity to re-visit it. Such is the case with the Mediterranean Garden Grill in Monrovia.
Before I go any further, I want to mention that it's an interesting restaurant space. My first visit there was during lunch time and the dining room had an enclosed patio kind of feel with the windows open to let the air in, but at a later dinner visit, they closed up all the windows and it felt like a regular indoor restaurant.
As mentioned, my first meal there was for lunch. Wanting something a little tart, I started with the beautifully pink pickle plate. Silly question, but why are those pickles pink and are they actually cucumbers or a different pickled vegetable altogether? I've always wanted to know.
While I was perusing the menu, an appetizer caught my eye, so I decided to order the Mouhamana, which is chopped walnuts with spicy red peppers and pomegranate juice. I loved the mixture of flavors that included nutty, sweet, tangy and with a little kick. I could have easily just eaten that with the pita bread or even just crackers and I would have been happy, but soon enough, my lule kebab arrived.
Lule Kebab is lean ground beef mixed with onions and spices, seasoned, skewered and grilled, served with rice, grilled vegetables and a pita bread. Taking my first look at it, I really could see all the seasonings embedded in the meat and with just my first bite, I could taste all the great flavors the seasonings imparted. Surprisingly, even though the ground beef was lean, meaning less fat, the lule kebab still had a little juiciness to it and of course, I loved the texture of its charred surface.
I wasn't even considering dessert, but an enticing photo of their Ashta dessert was just too irresistible. Ashta is sheramoya fruit mixed with whipped cream and rose water and sprinkled with crushed pistachios and honey and this tasty mixture is placed on top of fresh cut bananas. Wow, what an awesome dessert. I'd go back just for this. It was a light and refreshing dessert, absolutely perfect anytime, but maybe even more so on a warmer day.
My first visit was definitely a hit, so much so that I went back a few days later and unfortunately, that was not a good experience. I was seated, got a glass of water, perused the menu and made my choices and then proceeded to wait and wait and wait. The restaurant wasn't that busy. There was only one large group on the other side of the room and me. Granted, I could have waved someone over, but come on. My menu was down and there were waiters walking back and forth in front of my table. One of them could have stopped to ask me if I was ready to order. I decided to clock how long it would take for a waiter and after 10 minutes, I just walked out.
I wasn't sure if a third visit would be imminent, but I really enjoyed the food so I thought I'd give it another try. This time, I brought a friend for dinner a couple of weeks later. I'm not sure if they had remembered me walking out or perhaps, the wait staff was just more attentive that evening, but this time around, the service was much better.
For my second meal there, my friend and I shared the marinated and seasoned black and green olives as well as the Baba Ghanouj, which is basically BBQ eggplant and sesame paste. What I liked about the Baba Ghanouj was that it was full of chunky eggplant goodness and not pureed down to the point that you're not even sure if there's eggplant in the dish.
As for my entree, I ordered the Beef Shawarma, which is basically seasoned and marinated pan flamed beef brochettes served with tahini sauce, rice and hummus. I actually preferred the lule kebab that I had at my first visit. The beef was a little chewier than I would have liked and needed a little more flavor. I did get a chance to sample my friend's Chicken Shawarma and thought the chicken was nicely seasoned and was even tender and juicy. This time there was no room for dessert. It wasn't as stellar a meal as at my first visit, but still pretty good.
The very last time I visited, I was in the mood for soup and ordered their Swiss Char Lentil Soup, which is vegetarian. The ingredients for this soup are whole lentils cooked with Swiss char and roasted garlic and the flavor is both tangy and lemony, flavors near and dear to my Filipino palate.
Except for that one major hiccup on my second visit, I really enjoy dining at the Mediterranean Garden Grill and with it being only a few miles away, I can always give in to my Ashta and Swiss Char and Lentil Soup craving whenever I'd like, or at least when the restaurant is open.
Mediterranean Garden Grill
335 W. Foothill Blvd.
Monrovia, CA 91016